Five Questions for Chrissie Morris

For designer Chrissie Morris, there has been only one constant since she launched her collection in 2007: change.

From becoming a mother (three times over) and navigating an economic crisis, to buying her Italian factory and significantly broadening her line, life today looks a lot different than it did four years ago. “There’s never a dull moment, but it’s great,” the 35-year-old designer said during an interview in Paris last month.

Morris, whose carefully crafted art-deco designs have helped her stand out in a crowded luxury market, expanded the line by 30 percent for spring ’12 and added mid-heel heights for the first time.

“This season, about half the collection ended up coming out simpler than in the past,” Morris said. “I took away some of the complexities of the shoes. For me, that was fresh and new.”

Sales for the line, which retails from $600 to $1,600, are up double digits growth for spring.

“I like her creative combinations of leather, suede and skins, and the mix of colors. Her collection continues to improve with each season,” said Karen Daskas, owner of Birmingham, Mich.-based Tender, which has stocked the label for the past several years. “The addition of more choices in heel shapes and heights will make Chrissie’s shoes appeal to more of my clients.”

For spring, Morris added 15 names to her retail roster, including designer website Modaoperandi.com and Mona Moore in Venice, Calif.

As she builds her presence, consumers are taking notice. Out of 25 major luxury names, Morris placed fourth (just behind Valentino, Jimmy Choo and Prada) in this year’s Footwear News and Saks Fifth Avenue “Sexy Shoes” contest, garnering more than 2,100 votes for her suede, mesh and stingray peep-toe ankle boots.

Here, Morris sounds off on why comfort matters now and what today’s new design talent must do to succeed.

What are the biggest obstacles you’ve encountered as a young designer?
CM:
Riding through the crisis was a really hard moment. Last year, we had many people who didn’t pay for their stock. For a small company that doesn’t have backing, that was really hard. Behind the scenes, we had to cover huge holes. Until we get investors, that will always be a worry. We’re ready for investment now. We’ve got the product to support growth, and there’s a lot of growth to obtain in both the U.S. and Europe. And then the rest of the world will follow. I don’t think we’ve reached the point yet where we can attack a market like China.

How have you continued to evolve the collection during the past several seasons?
CM:
My designs are reflective of the changes in my lifestyle. [As a mother of three], I have a different kind of life now. I don’t go out as much at night. I want to look good, but in a more casual-elegant way. It’s about multifunctionality, sturdiness and comfort. Before, it was all about show. You could only wear the shoes for an hour or two.

Your life partner, Emiliano Figurelli, is also your business partner. What has it been like working together?
CM:
We scream — a lot. [Laughs] Seriously, though, I would never be able to run a business of this scale without him. He brings finance expertise, and he’s also a master juggler. And he’s good with people. I am, too, but I sometimes get too emotional. He’s more even-keeled.

You made a splash during London Fashion Week this season with your Pringle of Scotland collaboration. How did that come about?
CM:
I had just given birth and was about to go on holiday, and they called to ask if I could do the shoes for them. They had heard about me through a PR agency. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I was really happy with the shoes. [Pringle creative director] Alistair Carr is a really lovely guy, and I had chemistry with him. A project like that excites me and makes me grow. It gets the creative juices flowing.

Four years in, what advice do you have for designers who are just starting out?
CM:
Get experience in the field and maybe work for someone else first. If you want to produce in Italy, learn Italian. You need to be able to speak the language to get yourself understood. Go work in a factory so you really know what you’re doing. It’s incredibly complicated in Italy, with all the different suppliers and production timings. Every season, I learn something new.

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